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Live Game Thread Thursday, March 26, 2009

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Spring Training

Shannon Drayer’s covering a game that not even 710 or 97.3 (local M’s stations) are covering in a live thread in her blog.  If you’re interested, check it out.  It’s your first chance to see what our possible regular lineup might look like.  As I write this, Felix struggled through the top of the inning, but survived with minimal damage.

Opening Day Preview? Thursday, March 26, 2009

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Spring Training

Shannon Drayer clued me in first to today’s lineup, which could be an exact preview of what this squad might look like opening day.  Here’s where we’re sitting against Kansas City today in Peoria:

RF Ichiro
2B Lopez
LF Griffey
3B Beltre
1B Branyan
DH Sweeney
C Johjima
SS Betancourt
CF Gutierrez

And Felix is even set to take the mound today!

Obviously there are some issues here and there, but overall, you’ve got to like our 2009 squad.

Ichiro’s our leadoff man.  I keep hearing that nagging talk about batting third, but it’s not going to happen this season.  He didn’t even hit third in this year’s World Baseball Classic.

I have some doubts about Lopez’s effectiveness in the 2-spot, especially when he fared better in the Classic when he started later in the lineup.  In theory, he’s got the OBP to make this work out well for whoever bats third and cleanup.

Griffey batting third I just don’t get, as he seems a more natural 4 (and barely that) or 5 hitter at this point in this career.  Beltre, with his contract on the line and a great performance last year should fill in the third spot.

Beltre batting cleanup is fine, but I think he’ll spend more of the season in third when we’re a bit short on threats from this lineup.  He’s the only Mariner whose average can handle the three spot.  Now if we had Ibanez…

Branyan, Sweeney and Joh at 5, 6 & 7 could be quite a tossup if not the weakest point in our lineup.  If Branyan can hit 30 out this year, I’m fine with him at 5.  Sweeney’s looked good in camp, but I’m not yet convinced he can go the long haul.  I think he fits in better at 7.  And as for Joh, I think he’s got more 5 potential than any of these guys.  I’m not looking for him to hit for power, but this team needs to be built in a different way.  Let’s face it, we’re not a homerun threat.  We aren’t the typical power-heavy hitters that fare well in the AL.  Joh can hit the 5 spot and he can hit it consistently.  But will he?  Last year’s numbers say no.

At 8 we’ve got Betancourt, which basically makes him a weak link in a plastic chain of inconsistent hitting from this team.  I’d much rather see someone who can play great small ball hit 8, but you’ve gotta use what you’ve got.  And unfortunately right now, Bet’s all we’ve got.  8 seems to be a throwaway lineup spot for Wak.

And at 9 we’ve got Gutierrez.  I have always loved putting someone with speed at 9 to up our chance of having guys on base the second time through the lineup.  Franklin’s been quite the question mark offensively, but if he can pull off this small-ball mentality that’s being pushed in Peoria, he and Ichiro will make quite a team at 9 and 1.  I don’t even care if he spends most of his time bunting for hits!  A good contact hitter with his speed can bat .200 bunting alone.  Or maybe Ichiro will teach him that slap thing he does.

Here’s hoping this lineup gels today.  It would make quite a statement.  I’m assuming that our other main lineup option is Endy Chavez in left with Griffey snagging DH from Sweeney.  I personally think that Endy could be an effective 2 hitter, but I’m sure he’ll get knocked back to 6-8 when that switch takes place.

6 Mariners – 4 Mariners = 2 Mariners Sunday, March 22, 2009

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The World Baseball Classic is quickly pulling to a close and unfortunately, Venezuela was outed by a superior Korean pitching staff yesterday 2-10.  Many had speculated that Felix Hernandez should have started today’s game, and once again speculation has proved true.  Carlos Silva managed to survive just 1 and a 1/3 innings giving up 7 runs (6 earned), making a throwing error to an uncomfortable first baseman in Miguel Cabrera, and launching two balls out of the park in the process.  One to former Mariner/Rainier Shin Soo Choo for 3 of those 7 painful runs that Venezuela was never able to gain back.

Even the hottest-hitting player in the tournament up till yesterday: Mariner Jose Lopez, went hitless in what was a very frustrating game on all levels for Venezuela.  Endy Chavez did manage to gain a single hit, and looked good in the field all day.  But unfortunately for Felix, his tournament is over without even a shot at the final.  Carlos was willing to talk about his performance but never quite answered a question about why he couldn’t keep the ball down, which was a staple of his poor performances last season with the Mariners.

Interestingly enough, on the four teams in the semi-finals, there were more Mariners represented than any other MLB club with 6.  Detroit, who also had 4 on Venezuela’s squad came in 2nd with 5, but not all of them are major leaguers like Seattle.  And now with team Japan needing a big win against a revived United States squad, there leaves a chance of no Mariners making the finals on Monday night, which I’m certain would put a smile on Wakamatsu’s face.  No other team has had to deal with so many regular players absent from spring training this long and it’s obvious that a little “gelling” couldn’t hurt our spring in Peoria.

But here’s to Ichiro and Kenji and team Japan.  If you win, you have a chance to once again represent your country in a fantastic tournament final against a now-rival in Korea.  If you lose, then you have a chance to finally rush home and become Mariners again.  Best of luck either way.

World Baseball Classic: The Perfect Plan Friday, March 20, 2009

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Today, ESPN’s Jayson “Why is there an insufferable ‘y’ in my name” Stark published an article where he outlined a few possible plans for future World Baseball Classics.  I’d like to begin by saying that this man is a dolt and that the plan that I will outline here is better by far.

Why a new way?  Because there are some problems, mainly here in the United States.  Normally, I’d say forget the U.S. (especially with millions of international fans clamoring for more WBC), but as it’s an MLB-run event, I’ll give in.  The problem mainly involves Spring Training.  Currently, the WBC is set to coincide with spring events every four years.  

This is a two-fold problem:  First, the wimpy American players aren’t ready yet (Japan and Cuba and others play year-round).  I’m sick and tired of journalists whining that the American and other MLB players aren’t at full potential during this tournament, so it’s not a true battle of the best.  As annoying as those statemens have become, there’s a legitimate piece to it.  If we want this tourney to be a true test, everyone needs to be at full potential.  And despite Bud Selig’s insistence that March is the only time to do this tournament, he’s wrong.

And speaking of wrong, Stark’s idiotic plan is to run a play-in tournament and then a final during the All-Star break in July.  When does he want to run the play-in? “Want to play it in October? November? February? March? Whatever works best for all concerned.”  What???!  That doesn’t even address the primary issue of why this tournament isn’t working!  But getting back on track…

The second reason this isn’t working is because MLB teams (and the players) don’t want the players rushing themselves into competitive play that soon before April.  Thus the reason for bizarre pitch count rules and forcing some of the best arms to wait days at a time before they’re eligible to pitch again.  Does anyone remember the 2001 World Series?  Two pitchers, Johnson and Schilling, carried the Diamondbacks to victory on their own!  Pitching back to back and in surprise relief made it one of the most exciting series of all time.  

We need that for the WBC.  We need pitchers to be able to pull off a Dice-K-like high school championship performance (He threw 148  pitches to shut out one game, threw 250 pitches in 17 innings to win the next, took a day off in the one after that to play left field and still pitch relief to get the win, and pitched a no-hitter in the final!).

So what is my brilliant solution?  How can we make this tournament a truly international success?  Here’s the plan:

It’s quite simple, really.  Move spring training up once every four years.  Arizona and Florida are still sunny and warm in February, right?  Let spring training happen as usual.  We only need to adjust 3 weeks to clear room for this tournament.  Which means starting first thing in February.  Do the catchers and pitchers really need that much time to prep before games start?  Please.  These are professional athletes we’re talking about here.  If they aren’t keeping their million-dollar bodies in shape in the off-season, then screw ’em.

As for holding this in July in some sort of massive week of baseball as Stark suggests… are you serious?  We all know the All-Star game sucks, but c’mon.  This tournament is about more than American baseball.  I don’t really think interrupting multiple international league seasons is really the best way to go.  Instead, if we’re moving up spring training, let’s move up the baseball season, too.  March Madness be damned!  So now, every four years, the season starts in the second week of March.  That’s not such a big deal, is it?  Or maybe it’s even easier to just move up the season every year.

And as for the WBC, when does that fit in?  At the end of the season, of course.  The way it’s scheduled this year, if we play a game 7 in the World Series, it will take place in November, which is already ridiculous.  So for those of you who say that football will interfere with the WBC if we play it in the fall, guess what?  We already do!  There’s no way around it.

As for the actual layout of the now mid-October 2013 WBC tournament, let me suggest one thing:  We expand the number of teams to 32, with the 8 that got into round two in the previous tournament getting an automatic bid.  That means that this year, only Japan, Korea, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, United States, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands get to sit out the first few days of the tournament.  The other 24 teams would have to compete in a play-in style to take place over the course of just a few days.  This might include doubleheaders to continue to fit in the successful double elimination method of this year’s Classic.  Once those 24 teams become 8, they play against the already seeded teams from 2009 in the same way we played 16 teams this year (which only took 17 days), with the winners of round one guaranteeing themselves a spot in the 2017 tourney.  Beautiful, right?  But what’s even better is that we drop all rules as to pitch counts.  If one team happens to have a Yu Darvish/Dice-K combination, they can use them all they want.  With no teams worried about players interfering with the regular MLB season development model, all bets are off.

So why doesn’t Selig want to do this tournament that late in the year?  Because he doesn’t want it to seem bigger than the World Series.  Despite how much time he spends touting the merits of the WBC, he doesn’t really want it to be the end-all of baseball competition.  Which basically means, one single man is holding back what could be one of the greatest international sporting events of all-time.  A sporting event that could even eclipse the World Cup!  Give it up, Bud.  This is the future of baseball.  This is the plan that will make the World Baseball Classic a better tournament.